When the world's ambassador of peace came to Calgary, he left a battle in his wake.
The weeks following the Dalai Lama's visit to the city in September have been filled with furious recriminations and threats of lawsuits among those who contributed to the event only to find out later they would not be paid the thousands of dollars they are owed.
The fallout led yesterday to the resignation of a high-profile member of the upstart Wildrose Alliance Party, which is challenging Alberta's ruling Progressive Conservatives, and to worries about Calgary's ability to host high-profile speakers in the future.
The two-day Dalai Lama event enthralled Calgary, featuring an appearance by former South African leader F.W. de Klerk and concerts by k.d. lang and Bryan Adams. Pictures of the Dalai Lama wearing a white Stetson made local newspaper front pages, while the Tibetan leader's speech attracted 15,000 to the Pengrowth Saddledome, each paying ticket prices between $25 and $75.
Tickets for the full two-day event cost several hundred dollars.
Almost two months later, some performer expenses have not been paid, including those of Mr. de Klerk, the former South African president who helped abolish apartheid. In total, the event has left $300,000 in unpaid bills after Carter McRae Events, which was hired by the University of Calgary to co-ordinate the occasion, told a supplier that the event "lost money," leaving it "completely insolvent."
"They have no money to pay anybody," said Dan Frerichs, the owner of Sound Art Calgary Inc., which is owed $51,000.
"Where did the money go is my question."
The debacle has several companies pursuing their legal options and has infuriated city event workers, who have watched Calgary become part of the world speaking circuit. In recent years, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Alan Greenspan have all come here.
But though other leaders have been brought to town by different companies, the Dalai Lama mess may tarnish the city's image, event workers say.
"It was on the news every night how proud Calgary was to have brought these people in - and then we turn around and don't pay the guest speakers, we don't pay the suppliers," said Janet Bennett, the Western Canada regional director for AVW-TELAV, an audio-visual company that is owed just under $70,000.
"It affects the city and its reputation."
It has also cast questions over the Wildrose party, which hired Stephen Carter, the co-owner of Carter McRae, as a strategist.
Mr. Carter was forced to apologize last week after making Twitter comments that some saw as derogatory to Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach's Ukrainian heritage.
Following inquiries by The Globe and Mail yesterday, Wildrose spokesman Shawn Howard said Mr. Carter resigned from the party position because "he did not want these business issues becoming a distraction and did not want political opponents to be able to use that against [Wildrose leader]Danielle [Smith]"
In an interview, Mr. Carter said he was as much the victim as those with unpaid bills.
"I got screwed. And in turn others got screwed," he said. "There's lots of people devastated by this. And no one is more sorry or sad than I am. ... I lost an awful lot through this. I know that a lot of my suppliers are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars, but I added an extra $200,000-plus to my own personal debt."
Carter McRae Events was formed 12 years ago and became one of the leading events organizations in Calgary. Owned by Mr. Carter and his wife, Heather McRae, it had a staff of nine and a reputation as an ethical business.
According to Mr. Carter, the problems started this summer. His company was hired to organize the Water Ski World Championship 2009, which was held south of Calgary, and oversaw most of the financial aspects of the event.
But when it did not make the money it expected to, Mr. Carter was left with just over $400,000 in red ink, which the event's backers have been unwilling to pay, he said.
He also lost a significant sum of money from the Dalai Lama event, after representatives for the spiritual leader challenged his ability to profit from the speech through higher ticket prices, he said.
"Anything we tried to do to increase the revenue, the Dalai Lama's people said no to," he said. "And ultimately, the event just couldn't generate enough revenue."
Combined, the two flops left him with about $700,000 in unpaid bills, more than he could handle, he said.
But Mr. Carter's story was challenged by the water ski event organizers.
"It's true we haven't paid him. But that presupposes that we owe him something. And there's no way in heck I'm prepared to say that, because the accounting is just an absolute mess," said Kim Reid, a lawyer who volunteered with the championship.
The University of Calgary, which invited the Dalai Lama, is owed money by Carter McRae, but it may, through its own involvement and the tangle of financial transactions, also become the target of lawsuits - all thanks to an event meant to spread peace and harmony.
"The irony," Mr. Carter said, "is not lost on me."